In Gov. Mary Fallin's first two years in office, the number of paroles granted to the state's inmates has dropped sharply.
Last year, fewer than 500 were paroled. In 2004, while Brad Henry was in office, more than 2,000 inmates were paroled in a single year.
Alex Weintz, a spokesman for Fallin, said there are a number of reasons for the decline in paroles.
Weintz said the Pardon and Parole Board has told the governor's office that numbers are down because more inmates are accruing earned credits and discharging from prison earlier than expected.
He also said more and more offenders are waiving parole so they can participate in the prison system's relatively new global positioning satellite program.
Under the so-called GPS program, only certain, low-risk inmates are allowed early release on the condition they wear an ankle monitor at all times. Hundreds of inmates are participating in the program, which started in late 2011.
Weintz also remarked that the Pardon and Parole Board has stated that Fallin denies more parole cases than her predecessor.
While Henry had more parole cases to consider than Fallin has so far, he approved paroles at a much higher rate during his early days in office.
Through the end of last year, Fallin had denied 53 percent of the parole cases she reviewed. During Henry's first year in office, he approved more than 80 percent of the cases that came before him.
Along with her staff, Fallin reviews an inmate's case, prior convictions, victim testimony, behavior in prison and other factors before deciding whether to approve or deny parole.
“Our legal staff will sometimes meet in person with family members, attorneys or others involved in the case,” Weintz said. “Our office also collects any letters or petitions sent to the governor regarding the case.
“Her priorities are to see that justice is served, everyone is treated equally and fairly, and those who are a danger to our communities stay behind bars,” Weintz said.
The effect of the drop in paroles is hard to gauge, state Corrections Department spokesman Jerry Massie said. He said one of the more obvious effects is the prison system's ongoing struggle with county jail backlog.
Inmates sentenced to time in Oklahoma prisons, under the current system, are held in county jails until there's a place for them in a state facility. This can take a few weeks or several months, Massie said.
Once the inmates are sentenced, the state prison system takes over financial responsibility of the prisoners. Under state law, the Corrections Department pays $27 per day to house the inmate, plus any medical costs.
Last year, the state Corrections Department paid county jails $21,207,728 to house inmates awaiting transfer to a state prison, the most ever. In 2003, the agency paid just $7.4 million to county jails.
“With how full we are, it's almost like one bed opens up, there's someone to fill it ... so it's one out, one in, literally,” he said. “Fewer paroles, well, it backs up people in county jails. There's no other place for them to go.”
Massie said the agency is hopeful recent law changes, which take the governor out of the parole process for nonviolent offenders, will increase paroles.
“We're hoping that will speed up the process,” he said.
CONTRIBUTING: Tulsa World Staff Writer Barbara Hoberock